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Opinion | Let Michigan’s nurse practitioners do their job

When you “go to the doctor,” who do you actually see? For many patients in Michigan, the answer is a nurse practitioner.

Nurse practitioners are highly trained medical professionals who are required to earn a bachelor's and master's degree in nursing. This advanced education, as well as their extensive clinical training and national board certifications, prepare them to work on the front lines of Michigan’s healthcare system. Nurse practitioners provide primary care as well as working in specialties such as geriatrics, pediatrics, emergency medicine and mental health.

Denise Soltow Hershey
Denise Soltow Hershey is an associate professor at Michigan State University’s College of Nursing, a family nurse practitioner, and president of the Michigan Council of Nurse Practitioners. (Courtesy photo)

Twenty years ago, only a quarter of doctor’s offices employed advanced practice medical professionals like nurse practitioners. Today, that number has risen to more than 60 percent. Nurse practitioners are an essential part of collaborative healthcare teams that put patients first.

If your healthcare provider is a nurse practitioner, you’re in good hands. Nationwide, nurse practitioners support more than 1 billion patient visits each year. It’s a growing trend that’s good for patients and good for Michigan.

Unfortunately, Michigan is just one of 11 states that severely restrict the ability of nurse practitioners to provide healthcare services to the full extent of their graduate education, clinical training, and national certifications. These outdated restrictions require nurse practitioners to secure a state-mandated contract with a supervising physician to provide care to their patients.

Most states don’t have these onerous restrictions. They allow what is known as Full Practice Authority for nurse practitioners. Many of these “FPA” states have much better health outcomes than Michigan.

A growing shortage of physicians in Michigan, especially in underserved rural and urban areas, means it can take a long time to get a doctor’s appointment. Nurse practitioners can help close that gap, but Michigan’s archaic regulations make it much more difficult to attract and retain these skilled medical professionals, many of whom prefer to practice in a state that respects and values their training and education.

Forty years of research clearly demonstrates that nurse practitioners provide quality, safe and cost-effective care to their patients. A review of that research by Michigan’s nonpartisan Citizens Research Council concluded that Full Practice Authority for nurse practitioners “will likely help reduce primary care physician shortages, improve access to healthcare in underserved areas, reduce healthcare costs, and provide care at or above the quality offered by physicians.”

For all of these reasons, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order during the COVID-19 pandemic that suspended physician supervision requirements for nurse practitioners. But Michigan’s healthcare system was strained to the breaking point long before COVID. When the pandemic is finally over, we still need to improve access to healthcare in underserved rural and urban areas.

Currently it can take as long as three to six months for a patient to get established with a primary care provider. Nurse practitioners are part of the solution to making medical care more accessible and affordable across the state. Nurse practitioners who specialize in psychiatric care also have an important role to play in strengthening Michigan’s struggling mental health system.

Legislation is now pending in the Michigan Senate that would allow nurse practitioners to provide healthcare services independently and to work as full members of patient-centered, collaborative healthcare teams. Ending the outdated and unnecessary requirement that they secure a state-mandated contract with a supervising physician will improve access to quality, affordable healthcare across Michigan.

Learn more about Senate Bill 680 at mipatientsfirst.com, then contact your state representative and senator to request their support for this important legislation.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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